Archive for the ‘oil spill’ tag
Thursday was a bad day for Rep. Joe L. Barton.
We can see the game clearly. Was Barton sorry for being sorry? Or sorry for being sorry, sorry?
Barton, who on Thursday said the federally mandated edict on BP to create a $20 million escrow account to financially support those affected by its pitiless oil spill in the Gulf was a “shakedown,” apologized to BP for the administrations’ actions against the British company. When pressed, he then apologized for the apology.
Here is Barton to the House Energy and Commerce Committee:
I’m ashamed of what happened in the White House yesterday. I think it is a tragedy of the first proportion that a private corporation can be subjected to what I would characterize as a shakedown — in this case a $20 billion shakedown.
A tragedy indeed. A monumental tragedy, in fact, if you are financially backed by the very industry you are defending. According to an Associated Press report:
“I’m ashamed of what happened in the White House” on Wednesday, said Barton, who has received at least $100,470 in political contributions from oil and gas interests since the beginning of 2009, the second-highest amount among all the committee members.
Mr. Barton, in his statement, apologized “for using the term ‘shakedown’ ” to describe the $20 billion escrow account that BP and the White House announced Wednesday. He also retracted the apology to BP and said the company “should bear the full financial responsibility for the accident on their lease in the Gulf of Mexico” on April 20 and “fully compensate those families and businesses that have been hurt.”
Empty rhetoric and driven, most likely, by the criticism he faced. Again, The Times:
Of the five Gulf Coast states, Mr. Barton’s Texas is the only one whose beaches, fisheries and tourist haunts are not threatened by oil spewing from BP’s ruined well. Republican lawmakers from Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Florida quickly disavowed Mr. Barton’s apology to BP, and one was the first to call for stripping Mr. Barton of his committee seat.
Actually, if a politician issues an opinion on a certain issue, however against the grain, why redact it, if only for political expediency? Stand by your convictions, Mr. Barton. If you are in bed and bequeathed to Big Oil, say so. At least, then, you would go down as an honest person. If you care not one wit for our environment, but everything for the cash and equity provided by companies like BP, say so. At least, then, you would skirt the charge of hypocrisy and salvage a very minute shred of your dignity. As it stands, there’s not much left.
Reaction to President Obama’s first speech from the Oval Office this week has been swift and decidedly negative, except, perhaps, from some in his own party who want some type of energy reform. For instance, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) had this to say:
President Obama presented a path to energy independence in his speech tonight that strengthens our economy and protects our environment. He made a compelling case that America cannot delay our pursuit of a national clean energy strategy that makes us more competitive globally.
And Sens. John Kerry (D-Mass.) and Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) issued this statement:
This could be a historic leadership moment. President Obama used his first-ever Oval Office address to call for the passage of comprehensive energy and climate legislation. There can be no doubt that the president is rolling up his sleeves to ensure we establish a market mechanism to tackle carbon pollution, create hundreds of thousands of new jobs each year, strengthen energy independence and improve the quality of the air we breathe. We will continue working with colleagues from both sides of the aisle to pass comprehensive reform this summer.
Everyone else, for the most part either thought Obama was too openly political in mentioning his energy plans (Michael Steele) or didn’t go far enough. Rachel Maddow went to so far as to stage her own mock speech outlining what Obama should have said but didn’t:
I no longer say that we must get off oil. We will get off oil, and here’s how. The United States Senate will pass an energy bill this year. The Senate version of the bill will not expand offshore drilling. The earlier targets in that bill for energy efficiency and for renewable energy sources will be doubled or tripled.
But the problem here is that such a bill probably wouldn’t pass in the Senate because of moderates. Obviously, Maddow is quite progressive, and while I may agree with her on some points, the president’s approach to look toward some type of energy reform in the near future, however nebulous at this moment, is the right one, while Maddow’s approach, noble at times, takes it a step too far to stick realistically at this juncture.
Back to the point, Newsweek, using headers like “Disappointed,” “Betrayed” and “Perplexed” outlined numerous opinion writers’ negative opinions on the matter.
But here I come to a post by this blogger, who, after enunciating many criticisms to the speech, also laid out a few positives Obama spelled out during the speech:
So what three policies did Obama choose to call out individually?
Some have suggested raising efficiency standards in our buildings like we did in our cars and trucks. Some believe we should set standards to ensure that more of our electricity comes from wind and solar power. Others wonder why the energy industry only spends a fraction of what the high-tech industry does on research and development — and want to rapidly boost our investments in such research and development.
I could be reading too much into this — “some believe” and “others wonder” aren’t exactly cris de coeur — but these words were chosen carefully. Normally Obama’s energy pitch includes ritual nods to “clean coal,” nuclear power, and domestic drilling. None of those made an appearance last night; it was only energy efficiency and renewable energy. That strikes me as a deliberate (and welcome) message to the Senate about what Obama wants on the energy side of a bill.
That’s hardly enough to salvage the speech, of course. But it’s not nothing.
And well, if conservative Dems or Reps are dissatisfied with the direction of the speech, what other direction could it have gone? The progression from talking about lessening the damage from the spill to points on generally preventing such a thing in the future, and further, on getting us, once and for all, off of oil in the first place, seems to me to be the logical progression the speech should have taken, as it did. But, let this point not be lost: Maddow’s thoughts, however much I may want it to be a reality in the future, will not be a reality in the near present. We have simply too many folks in power with much to gain from the status quo to make that vision happen.
For yet another example of how the theory of less regulation in the business sector collapses, sometimes literally, under its own weight, the BP disaster provides a clear picture of what happens when companies, wholly vested in their own moneymaking interests, despite what they tell us in their sunny, “green” commercials, are allowed to operate with impunity.
To say that the Minerals Management Service also failed in its mission to oversee BP is a glaring understatement. According to a May 30 editorial from The New York Times:
Much has been said — including by President Obama — about the incestuous relationship between the oil industry and its chief regulator, the Interior Department’s Minerals Management Service, which routinely ignored basic environmental laws and its own rules to fast track drilling permits.
culture in which oil companies were able to get what they wanted without sufficient oversight and regulation.
To be sure, questionable conduct by those within the MMS might have occurred on Obama’s watch, and Salazar, as noted below, will look at 2009 as well. But the problems within the agency go back at least a decade, and it’s unfortunate that it takes something as monumental as one of the largest oil spill in U.S. history for the agency to be probed and gutted. We shouldn’t be surprised if violations go back three decades since the agency’s 1982 inception, which would obviously span numerous presidential administrations of both parties.
The most recent report from the Interior Inspector General cites violations from 2000-2008:
The report, which is a follow-up report on an investigation that the Inspector General conducted in 2007, notes a number of violations of federal regulations and agency ethics rules by employees of MMS’ Lake Charles, LA, district office from 2000-2008. Among other things, staffers in the office were found to have accepted sport event tickets, lunches, and other gifts from oil and gas production companies and used government computers to view pornography. Some of these staffers were tasked with inspections of offshore drilling platforms located in the Gulf of Mexico.
Several of the individuals mentioned in the Inspector General’s report have resigned, been terminated, or referred for prosecution. Those individuals mentioned in the IG report for questionable behavior who are still with MMS will be placed on administrative leave pending the outcome of a personnel review.
“The Inspector General report describes reprehensible activities of employees of MMS between 2000 and 2008,” said Secretary Salazar. “This deeply disturbing report is further evidence of the cozy relationship between some elements of MMS and the oil and gas industry. That is why during the first ten days of becoming Secretary of the Interior I directed a strong ethics reform agenda to clean house of these ethical lapses at MMS. I appreciate and fully support the Inspector General’s strong work to root out the bad apples in MMS and we will follow through on her recommendations, including taking any and all appropriate personnel actions including termination, discipline, and referrals of any wrongdoing for criminal prosecution.”
“In addition,” Salazar said, “I have asked the Inspector General to expand her investigation to determine whether any of this reprehensible behavior persisted after the new ethics rules I implemented in 2009.”
So, what we have is a federal agency that proved inept at keeping the oil industry in check and a major oil company that proved impotent in fixing, while at the same time apparently ignoring, the mechanical deficiencies of its own equipment. Where does that leave us? The Times editorial linked above asks whether it might be plausible for the federal government to develop its own method for handling such disasters, independent of any private company.
As things stand now, industry has all the equipment and experience. In an interim report to the president on Thursday, Mr. Salazar suggested the creation of a kind of parallel technological universe in which government would have the robots, the coffer dams and the other tools necessary to help control a big blowout.
That could be expensive, but Mr. Obama indicated on Friday that he had been thinking along the same lines. As well he should be. The images from the last month — Washington essentially powerless, BP flailing away — have been deeply disheartening.
Makes one wonder: Where are the small government folks now calling for the Obama administration to swoop in and save the day? Oh, what’s that you say? The federal government has no means to fix this particular crisis? That’s all on BP, the company whose many prior misgivings are now being brought to light? We are in for a long, troubling ordeal, and as fines from Clean Water Act violations, private litigation and other costs mount for the company, BP and the environment will likely be dealt an equally harsh blow. For BP, it may be a fatal one. Or, given years and years of colossal profits, maybe not.
The Associated Press this weekend released a good enterprise piece on BP’s tendency to consistently misrepresent or downplay the full effects of its oil rig debacle, which as of now has put somewhere between 18 million to 40 million gallons of crude in the ocean. Obviously, lowballing the estimates would behoove BP, since they face penalties based on how much oil actually leaks. According to the article:
On almost every issue — the amount of gushing oil, the environmental impact, even how to stop the leak — BP’s statements have proven wrong. The erosion of the company’s credibility may prove as difficult to stop as the oil spewing from the sea floor.
“They keep making one mistake after another. That gives the impression that they’re hiding things,” said U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, a Florida Democrat who has been critical of BP’s reluctance to publicly release videos of the underwater gusher. “These guys either do not have any sense of accountability to the public or they are Neanderthals when it comes to public relations.”
And later in the story, responding a question about why BP had presented wrong numbers on numerous fronts regarding the impact, BP spokesman David Nicholas said,
This event is unprecedented; no company, no one, has ever had to attempt to deal with a situation such as this at depths such as this before. BP, the Unified Command, the federal authorities and the hundreds of companies and thousands of individuals engaged on this effort, are doing everything we can to bring it under control and make it good.
as if “unprecedented” is a good enough excuse to not have a solution in case the worse happens. So too, BP Managing Director Robert Dudley clambered for excuses when quizzed on the company’s inept, or nonexistent, disaster policies on the Sunday edition of CNN’s State of the Union.
Here’s the video:
Reports indicated today that BP’s latest “Top Kill” effort to plug up the gushing oil tanker, which has to date, released an estimated 18 million to 40 million gallons of crude in the ocean, to the detriment of sea animals, marine life, and to the financial chagrin of piscators in the gulf, has itself, been killed.
Not surprising, detractors continued this week to claim the oil spill was — Ready yourself for this fast-growing cliché — Obama’s Katrina.
One of the most prominent to claim this, although not the first, is former crony, or officially, former senior adviser and deputy chief of staff to President George W. Bush, Karl Rove, who on Thursday had this to say about the current administration’s response:
Obama officials have it backwards: They talk tough about BP’s responsibilities but do not meet their own responsibilities under federal law. They should not have let more than a month go by without telling BP what to do.
And he goes on to say:
Initially, Team Obama [as if disaster relief work is an Olympic sport] wanted to keep this problem away from the president (a natural instinct for any White House). It took Mr. Obama 12 days to show up in the region. Democrats criticized President George W. Bush for waiting four days after Katrina to go to New Orleans.
First, the oil spill is not a catastrophe on the level of Katrina … yet. Not even close. A major U.S. city has not been buried under a wall of water. Some 1,800 people have no lost their lives in the worst hurricane since 1928′s Okeechobee hurricane. Some $80 billion in property damage has not occurred. So, for Rove to equate the two is, at best, misrepresenting things, and at worst, soulless to the core, which we must admit, is right in line and consistent with the general philosophy of his party.
Second, I find it awfully convenient that when problems such as the oil spill arise, the right suddenly crane their collective necks toward Obama for answers and solutions, while in other breaths and on other topics, the administration is inept and bent on self-destructing the country. Rush Limbaugh is one bloviating hypocrite I would place in this category. His statements are reported here. Mark Levin on his radio show took the zaniness a step further, when he stated, ridiculously and blasting just for blasting’s sake, as reported in the same article:
This is the first real challenge that President Obama has dealt with and he hasn’t been able to handle it.
The first real challenge, you say? The worst recession since the Great one in the 1930s wasn’t a challenge? I suppose neither were two wars, all three of which were the ruins from another administration. So, if I can attempt to put this into perspective: Obama is expected, in some instances, to hold the planets in alignment, and in other instances, stay the hell out of our lives, the poor, the sick, the downtrodden be damned? Does that sum it up?
Here’s a bit of nostalgia, if we want to summon Bush to talk about Obama, here’s a recent snippet from Frank Rich on the topic, and a Time article from 2005, with the button precisely placed on Bush’s meagerness as a leader.
FOR Barack Obama’s knee-jerk foes, of course it was his Katrina. But for the rest of us, there’s the nagging fear that the largest oil spill in our history could yet prove worse if it drags on much longer. It might not only wreck the ecology of a region but capsize the principal mission of the Obama presidency.
Before we look at why, it would be helpful to briefly revisit that increasingly airbrushed late summer of 2005. Whatever Obama’s failings, he is infinitely more competent at coping with catastrophe than his predecessor. President Bush’s top disaster managers — the Homeland Security secretary, Michael Chertoff, as well as the notorious “Brownie” — professed ignorance of New Orleans’s humanitarian crisis a full day after the nation had started watching it live in real time on television. When Bush finally appeared, he shunned the city entirely and instead made a jocular show of vowing to rebuild the coastal home of his party’s former Senate leader, Trent Lott. He never did take charge.
From Time in 2005:
It isn’t easy picking George Bush’s worst moment last week. Was it his first go at addressing the crisis Wednesday, when he came across as cool to the point of uncaring? Was it when he said that he didn’t “think anybody expected” the New Orleans levees to give way, though that very possibility had been forecast for years? Was it when he arrived in Mobile, Ala., a full four days after the storm made landfall, and praised his hapless Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) director, Michael D. Brown, whose disaster credentials seemed to consist of once being the commissioner of the International Arabian Horse Association? “Brownie, you’re doing a heck of a job,” said the President. Or was it that odd moment when he promised to rebuild Mississippi Senator Trent Lott’s house–a gesture that must have sounded astonishingly tone-deaf to the homeless black citizens still trapped in the postapocalyptic water world of New Orleans. “Out of the rubbles of Trent Lott’s house–he’s lost his entire house,” cracked Bush, “there’s going to be a fantastic house. And I’m looking forward to sitting on the porch.”
Bush seemed so regularly out of it last week, it made you wonder if he was stuck in the same White House bubble of isolation that confined his dad. Too often, W. looked annoyed. Or he smiled when he should have been serious. Or he swaggered when simple action would have been the right move.
And he was so slow. Everyone knew on Sunday morning that Katrina was a killer. Yet when the levees broke after the storm, the White House slouched toward action. And this from a leader who made his bones with 9/11. In a crisis he can act paradoxically, appearing–almost simultaneously–strong and weak, decisive and vacillating, Churchill and Chamberlain. This week he was more Chamberlain.